8 weeks ago I set my alarm for midnight in order to wake up and secure a coveted dinner reservation. I spent nearly 15 hours on the road this past Friday and Saturday to get there and back. Family and friends have inquired:
What kind of meal is worth the trouble?
Imagine a restaurant situated in the heart of a gorgeous, sprawling farm in the Hudson Valley. At the helm is a famous chef who is deeply invested in food, agriculture, and sustainability.
Together the chef, and all of the people responsible for cultivating, creating, and operating this literal farm-to-table restaurant, offer an experience that encapsulates pastoral dreams with fantasy level fine dining.
Enter the reality: Blue Hill at Stone Barns, which became a highly prioritized destination on my bucket list in recent years.
The evening started at 9 pm and lasted until nearly 2 am, elevating an already extravagant experience to one of pure treat yo self. During the brief drive from the hotel to the restaurant I made an optimistic, yet somewhat sarcastic, comment to my guy – something about hoping to be “blown away by hospitality,” but not exactly expecting it.
Having a high level of confidence in how great the food would taste, I suppose I was a bit jaded by my imagined dissolution of true, old school hospitality in restaurants these days. (And with all honesty, perhaps I just haven’t been going to the right places.) Whatever the case may be, the evening ended up being encompassed by a level of hospitableness that was seemingly an art form.
Saying I felt like a VIP doesn’t do it justice. I feel like our waiter deserves a Christmas card this year.
Throughout the night there was an exciting flurry of one dish after another with an added fanfare of storytelling and props to boot. Each serving accommodated my plant-based + gluten free request, which had been facilitated in the days before my arrival when they reached out to me via email (a beaming hospitality hint, in retrospect).
Each dietarily restricted dish was expertly executed as if there was no other option, showcasing a true understanding and appreciation of each ingredient. Amongst all of the 20+ inspired plates that graced the table, there were elements of play, humor, and just sheer beauty.
And speaking of the actual dishes, a lot of the food was plated upon handcrafted pottery that added an extra element of enchantment (click here to see what I mean). One piece of stoneware had even been placed around chickens before being fired, leaving a fossil-like imprint of each bird’s peck, which I couldn’t stop running my fingers over.
At one point we were invited to grab our wine and utensils (which were in a special satchel) and leave our table to go on an adventure. Ending up in the kitchen, face to face with Chef Dan Barber, was just about the last place I expected to end up.
But there I was.
The behind-the-scenes moment included conversation, taste-testing new varieties of purple potatoes, and enjoying a few delicious spoonfuls of a rice dish from a piece of pottery that had been sculpted to perfectly fit in the palm of your hand. This was all while being in awe of the many moving parts of such a focused and busy kitchen (and trying to covertly snap a photo to capture the pinch-me-I’m-dreaming feel of it all). It was an unexpected, dizzying moment that I will never forget.
By the end of the evening we had experienced nearly every texture, temperature, and flavor imaginable… from crisp, raw vegetables to earthy pu’erh tea, from icy granitas to scrumptious pockets of morels that we literally had to “forage” for… and so much more. Palates had been delighted and emotions were heightened as we left in a daze, and with a bonus loaf of gifted, gluten free bread in hand.
As we walked into the courtyard well after 1 am I took a moment to gaze up at the brightly twinkling stars above the farm, feeling incredibly grateful.
Perhaps this all sounds silly or hyperbolic, but I can only impress the authenticity of my impassioned voice. Food has been my healing medicine, and respect for the earth my strongest cause. To spend a few precious hours immersed in a world where those two things are paramount felt exceedingly unique and was incredibly special to me.
The trip punctuated a long month of moving mayhem, and served as the perfect celebration for the abundant good fortune 2017 has brought thus far. As the official transition to our new 12 acre property draws nearer I am basking in the glow of my visit to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and am eager to continue the journey of planting more inspired roots of my own.